British paratroopers train with robots that can fire guns and talk back at them

British paratroopers are getting a taste of real combat in training – by fighting talking robots that can even shoot back.

Instead of the traditional wooden practice targets that soldiers have been using for generations, the elite troops of 16 Air Assault Brigade have just acquired 10 “humanoid robotic targets”, called SimStrikers.

SimStrikers can speak in dozens of different languages, to give the soldiers a sense of who they are fighting, and they have their own weapons so these “practice targets” can return fire when they are shot at – although thankfully they’re just given BB guns so they can’t do any lasting harm.

The robots can be loaded with multiple profiles – for example they can respond with the rapid reflexes and expert marksmanship of Russian Spetsnaz special forces, or the more everyday skills of a lowly conscript.

The robots are set up in a virtual reality environment that gives troops a sense of the real war zones where they might one day be called in to fight for real.

Rob Taylor, a former Royal Marine who is behind the project, told The Times: “There needed to be a meeting of the virtual and real world. The room clearance and urban training is physical and yet when you get into a building and clear a block of flats, you then go to the windows and look into the virtual world.

“Then you can be in Kyiv and firing javelins and sniper rifles.”

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Rather than using videogame-style controllers to let trainees interact with the virtual world, “we want to turn the body into the controller,” Rob explained.

He said that the system will include motion detectors and eye-tracking software so that instructors can tell just how the soldiers are reacting, what they’re aiming at and which targets they may have missed.

The SimStriker target is also fitted with "hit-zone" sensors to record trainees' fire rate and accuracy.

Major Steve White, the officer commanding C Bruneval Company, 2 PARA, said the mobile SimStrikers training environment had “demonstrated the potential of combining virtual scenarios with rigorous physical training”.

“The technology provided us with virtual training assets like attack helicopters, mortars, drones which allowed us to train at a level of complexity usually only replicated on big exercises but at a fraction of the cost,” he added.

He said the technology was a “powerful and cost-efficient training platform” that enabled squads to build their rapport before heading out into real combat.

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